Making and Using Emotions

Making and Using Emotions October 7, 2021

Where do emotions come from? How are they born, reared, and pushed from the nest?

I found myself thinking about this recently when I noticed myself getting more worked up during an encounter than I had expected. My initial thought: where did that come from?

My wife and I are in the midst of trying to conceive and it is pretty amazing to research all of the things necessary for a successful conception and birth. It is a miracle it ever happens. And, on top of that, we have been talking a lot about the purpose of parenting in our house. It is not really to “be a good parent”, which so many parents seem to think is the end goal. The real point of parenting is to send the child-turned-adult on their own way. 

So, it seems like thinking about conception and the end purpose go hand-in-hand. It seems like the way things are born are often connected with the way they are supposed to live.


Conceiving Emotions

As far as I can see, there are two major things that come together to conceive an emotion. The first is value. Something that matters to us. The thing that is so tricky and surprising about this is that sometimes something happens that triggers a value, only it is so subtle it is hard to discern what the value is. Like when my wife asks me to do the dishes and I get upset. Why? Is it because I value freedom and I feel like she is telling me what to do? Is it because I value collaboration and it feels isolating to do something alone? 

Emotions hit all through my being, including right on the surface. And it is easiest to engage with them on this superficial level. To focus on the symptom rather than the value that triggered it.

But there is no doubt there is a value underlying it. If I didn’t care, I wouldn’t care.

By the way, emotions triggered by values are not just the ones that manifest negatively. This works with feelings like joy and surprise as well. They are the result of something I value being accentuated, whereas negative emotions are when I perceive my values to be ignored or rejected.

But it is not value alone that informs emotion. The other parent is experience. I am not encountering today in a vacuum. I have been triggered before. I have been in relationships before. I have endured circumstances. And that informs the way I assume my values are being accentuated or attacked in this new encounter. A trigger that looks suspiciously like a previous trigger is going to launch a correlating emotion within me.

So, these two together, value and experience, invite me to feel. I’ve learned that my experience informs my assumptions about how the world works. And at a more base level, my values inform how I would like for the world to work, how I want relationships to go; what matters to me is what I would like to see manifested.

The swirl of all of these things is the breeding ground for emotions.


Rearing Emotion

So, that is how emotions are conceived, at least as far as I can tell.

But, like children, the introduction of feeling into reality is just the beginning. One of the most essential things about my emotion is what I do with it once it arrives. How do I treat it? What end do I aim it toward? When and how do I let it go?

I tend to either hurry this process up or slow it down. I want to be rid of the emotion or I want it to linger and be definitive. All emotion is transitory. It is meant to come, inform, and go. They are helpers.

I think the most important thing I can do with my emotions is recognize what value they are attached to. I can then use it to serve that value, to show me how better to pursue it. Not how to avoid or manipulate the triggers, but learn what I can do to participate in my values more effectively. Sometimes people’s reactions are helpful for discerning that and sometimes they are distracting. But emotions are (or at least can be) very helpful in that endeavor.

Perhaps the hardest part is that I just don’t feel like I have time. I don’t often have the energy or willingness to do the intentional work necessary to make sense of all this. Easier to just move on to the next thing, ignore or feed the emotion until it fades, and then jump to the next circumstance, the next moment in time.

If I can muster up the willingness to utilize the opportunity of emotion toward a meaningful life, I can let it go with the feeling of a job well done, like a good parent dropping a kid off at college.

Emotions are weird and complicated and sometimes have a domino-effect (emotions on emotions). But they are teachers, opportunity makers. They are tools. If I can just have the courage to use them well.

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